John M. Egan, A Railway Officer in Winnipeg, 1882-1886:
An account of Canadian Pacific’s first years in the Manitoba capital

by Omer Lavallee
Corporate Archivist, Canadian Pacific Limited

MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 33, 1976-77 Season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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When my good friend John Bovey invited me to address the Annual Sir John A. Macdonald Day Dinner of the Manitoba Historical Society, it was stipulated that the topic of my remarks should bear some relationship to the career of the best-known of the Fathers of Confederation, to Manitoba in general and to Winnipeg in particular. My responsibilities as Corporate Archivist of Canadian Pacific Limited, and a specialization in the study of the history of transportation in Canada suggested that a topic relating to the early years of Canadian Pacific in the West might be appropriate to this occasion.

I believe that I need hardly remind my audience that what is now Canadian Pacific Limited came into existence, in 1881, to carry on to a successful conclusion, the physical aspects of the political challenge taken up by Canada’s first prime minister when he promised a transcontinental railway to British Columbia as a condition of its confederation with Canada in 1871.

Canadian Pacific’s corporate relationship with Winnipeg goes back more than ninety-five years, in fact precisely to 1 May 1881, when this city became the locale of the company’s first public operations. This was a rather sudden introduction to the realities of day-to-day business, coming, as it did, merely two-and-a-half months after Royal Assent was given to legislation chartering it on 15 February 1881. In fact, the railway lines radiating southward, eastward and westward from the city had been under construction and indeed in partial operation for some years preceding the transfer of operations from government to company in May 1881.

In fact, it was precisely one hundred years ago, as all good Winnipeggers should know, when Joseph Whitehead, then a railway contractor, landed a steam locomotive on the banks of the Red River in St. Boniface, to begin the railway era in Western Canada. The exact date was 9 October 1877, and the principal actor in the piece on that occasion, the locomotive “Countess of Dufferin”, is still with us, ensconced in its little park over on Main Street, between Portage Avenue and the CP Rail Station.

Thus, in this centennial year of the era of railways in Manitoba and the prairie provinces, I think it appropriate that I should speak on this subject, drawing on materials from Canadian Pacific’s files which have come to light since our Corporate Archives was established in May, 1973. A great deal of the material is in the form of letters from John M. Egan, an experienced, conscientious and effective railroader, who held the key post of General Superintendent, Western Division, here in Winnipeg between January 1882 and August 1886.

The arrival of the “Countess of Dufferin”, a caboose and a few flat cars in October 1877, enabled track laying to commence on what was then known as the Pembina Branch, a little more than sixty miles of rail line which is now CP Rail’s Emerson Subdivision, extending between St. Boniface and Emerson. This construction was part of a program of works on certain sections of the transcontinental railway which was undertaken by the federal government prior to its decision to entrust this project to private enterprise. The Pembina Branch was completed in 1878, just as the St. Paul & Pacific Railway was completed to the other side of the border from St. Paul. Operation of the Pembina Branch was entrusted to another contractor, Joseph Upper & Company, and trains began to operate to Emerson, connecting with services to St. Paul, Chicago and Eastern Canada on 5 December 1878.

Just over a year later, on 10 February 1880, the government discontinued the Upper contract and began to operate the Pembina Branch under its own government railway administration, for which the name “Canadian Pacific Railway” (note the absence of the word “company”) was chosen. The superintendent was T. J. Lynskey. As considerable progress had been made on construction of the railway eastward towards the Lakehead, a twice weekly train service was instituted between St. Boniface and Cross Lake (near the present Manitoba-Ontario boundary), a distance of ninety-seven miles. This arrangement remained in effect until 1 May 1881.

In the interim, the second Macdonald administration was carrying on negotiations to turn the whole transcontinental railway project over to private enterprise. As we all know, these negotiations culminated in a contract signed in October 1880 with a group of businessmen, including George Stephen and Duncan McIntyre of Montreal, as well as James J. Hill of St. Paul, a railway proprietor and entrepreneur who had been born in Ontario. The signing of this contract culminated in the passing of the Federal Act, 44 Victoria Chapter 1, on 15 February 1881. Letters patent incorporating the Canadian Pacific Railway Company were passed on the following day.

The new company lost no time in the organization of an operational staff. Under ordinary circumstances, a company charged with the responsibility of constructing and operating a railway might expect to devote its full efforts to financing and construction for an initial period before beginning public train operations. Unfortunately, this was not to be as far as the infant CPR company was concerned.

Certainly, the contract engaged the company with the primary responsibility of constructing 1,900 miles of new railway through an uncharted wilderness. But it also provided that it should assume responsibility for the working of another 700 miles of railway, which had been put under contract by the Government beginning in 1873, and which were to be transferred to the new Canadian Pacific company, section by section, as it was completed. Incidentally, these government-sponsored sections included the Pembina Branch, the line from St. Boniface through to the Lakehead, and another section in the valleys of the Fraser and Thompson rivers of British Columbia, extending from Port Moody in Burrard Inlet, in what is today greater Vancouver, to Savonas Ferry at the west end of Kamloops Lake.

Under these provisions, therefore, the federal government passed an Order-in-Council on 9 April 1881, transferring the Emerson-St. Boniface-Cross Lake line to the new Company effective 1 May 1881. Also transferred was another section extending across the new railway bridge from St. Boniface into Winnipeg and westward as far as Portage la Prairie. The Portage extension was not part of the transfer terms, but was purchased from the government by the new Company.

George Stephen and his colleagues lost no time in selecting and appointing a local staff in Winnipeg for this purpose. A circular, No. 1, issued on 22 April 1881, announced that A. B. Stickney had been appointed General Superintendent, and those reporting to him included General Thomas L. Rosser as Chief Engineer, W. R. Baker as Local Treasurer and Assistant to the General Superintendent and I. G. Ogden, Junior as Auditor, Lynskey, the government’s superintendent was retained in that capacity for the line between Emerson and Cross Lake, while the Winnipeg-Portage line was put under the jurisdiction of Joel May.

Those of my audience who are familiar with the present CP Rail main line between this city and Portage may not be aware that the original alignment went by way of Stonewall, extending along what is now the CP Rail branch to that town, then running directly westward to Portage. The route west from Stonewall was on an alignment for a proposed Red River crossing at Selkirk. With the change in administration from the Government to the company, the Selkirk crossing proposal was abandoned and the route of the main line diverted to pass through Winnipeg. During 1881, the more direct present CP Rail route to Portage, via Marquette, in the valley of the Assiniboine, was constructed and opened for service in December of that year. Concurrently, the line from Stonewall to Portage was abandoned.

With becoming modesty, General Rosser, as Chief Engineer, named the second siding west of Winnipeg after himself!

Those of my listeners who have read Pierre Berton’s best-selling books about the building of the CPR will be familiar with the exploits of Stickney, the General Superintendent, and Rosser, his Chief Engineer, during that hectic first season. The new line to Portage, saving ten miles on the journey westward, was built under Rosser’s direction; in addition, he supervised the construction of another eighty miles of track between a point near Austin, where the government’s construction forces had left off in 1880, and another location just west of Oak Lake. This stretch included the crossing of the Assiniboine and the land speculation at Brandon town site, in which Stickney and Rosser were deeply involved.

Allegations that Stickney and Rosser had managed to make a considerable amount of money on speculation based on their knowledge of the railway’s route plans did not sit well with George Stephen, Canadian Pacific’s president in Montreal and Stickney was induced to resign from the CPR’s service at the end of 1881, though Rosser was allowed to remain.

When it became apparent that Stickney must go, James J. Hill was asked to find a replacement. Hill found the man he wanted in the person of William Cornelius Van Horne, General Superintendent of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad. Van Horne was induced to accept an offer to become the General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, a more responsible and wider-ranging post than Stickney had held, as the CPR was now in operation in the East, having absorbed the Canada Central Railway in June 1881. The Canada Central operation was reorganized as the Eastern Division of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, while the lines radiating from Winnipeg were comprised into the Western Division. Each Division was headed by a General Superintendent, reporting to the General Manager. The supervision of construction forces was removed from the jurisdiction of the General Superintendents and comprised into separate responsibilities of Managers of Construction on each of the several sections, reporting directly to the General Manager.

The man Van Horne chose to fill the exacting - even critical - assignment replacing Stickney was John M. Egan, who was born on 26 March 1848, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He entered railway service in May, 1863, as a boy of fifteen years of age, as a machinist’s apprentice on the Illinois Central Railroad. Between 1867 and 1871, he filled various clerical positions on the Illinois Central and on the Northern Missouri Railroad, becoming subsequently assistant engineer, division engineer and chief engineer’s assistant. Moving to the Southern Minnesota Railroad in January 1877, he filled the posts of chief engineer, assistant superintendent and superintendent before leaving to join the CPR. Egan had joined the Southern Minnesota during Van Horne’s tenure as President and General Manager of that company. Now, at the age of 31 years, it was apparent that his capabilities had impressed Van Horne, and he took over his new duties in Winnipeg on 1 January 1882, on the same day as Van Horne assumed the CPR’s general managership. Van Horne made Winnipeg his headquarters until the autumn of 1882, when he moved to Montreal, leaving Egan to be the company’s senior officer in western Canada until he relinquished his post in September 1886.

Unfortunately, our Corporate Archives correspondence records begin only with Van Horne’s arrival in Montreal, late in 1882, but from that time, Egan’s many letters give us a continuing, play-by-play account of events as they unfolded in Western Canada during the building of the railway. The Van Horne correspondence which was carried on during the first ten months’ of his tenure, in Winnipeg, was destroyed in the 1 April 1886 Winnipeg Station fire, which gutted the building completely. However, his stated intention to build 500 miles of track during the 1882 season, and its accomplishment, are contained in other records to which we fortunately have access.

One of Van Horne’s first acts was to review General Rosser’s work, and it became obvious that Rosser had to go. This proved to be more difficult than the removal of Stickney, but was accomplished in March, 1882. Another engineer named James replaced Rosser, but died a year or so later. General Rosser, who had served with some distinction on the Confederate side during the War Between the States, did not accept his dismissal willingly. In July 1882, his feelings brought about an emotional confrontation with Van Horne in the Manitoba Club, when pistols were brandished; some months ago, John Bovey provided me with some interesting details of this incident which are contained in an historical account of the Club. In any event, Rosser soon left the scene.

I might add that at this period in history, civil engineering was a customary occupation for retired military officers, who seemed able to adapt military engineering experience to civilian pursuits. Hence, presumably, the occupation of “civil” (as distinct from “military”) engineer. Other eminent United States military men were employed in such positions on the railways of Canada. In my native province, what is now the CP Rail main line between Montreal and Quebec was surveyed and located by General Silas Seymour, another Civil War veteran, who was one of the principal engineers engaged in location of the Union Pacific Railroad, completed in 1869.

Almost from the beginning of his term of office in Winnipeg, Egan faced and surmounted challenges to his experience and ingenuity. Serious floods in the spring of 1882 caused serious damage to the new rail line in the valley of the Assiniboine, interrupting regular traffic, but also causing delays in the delivery of materials with which to start the targetted 500 miles of track laying in the 1882 season. Eagan marshalled his forces and temporarily rehabilitated the old main line west of Stonewall, which had been abandoned but not yet dismantled, thus bypassing the more serious flooded areas until the waters abated.

Though for this reason track laying did not begin until the end of June, from a point 169 miles west of Winnipeg, 430 miles were added to the line before operations ceased at the end of the year near mile 589, just a few miles short of what is now Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. The organization to feed an ever-lengthening supply line of rails, ties, spikes, splice bars and other hardware, hundreds of miles from the supply base in Winnipeg was Egan’s responsibility. The uninterrupted progress of construction depended solely on the constant arrival of material trains. These trains, in turn, utilized an ever-increasing number of locomotives and cars, which in turn required periodical servicing and repairs in an almost entirely uninhabited countryside.

As the railway extended westward, railway divisional points were established at approximate 125-mile intervals, this being the approximate distance that could be covered by a passenger train in eight hours, or by a freight train in ten hours, including stops. Long experience in the operation of railways in North America had determined this standard, which, in turn, influenced the site of some of the most important towns in the countryside. In this way, on the Canadian Pacific transcontinental, the location and identity of communities such as Ignace and Rat Portage (now Kenora) east of Winnipeg, and Brandon, Broadview, Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Medicine Hat, west of it, were determined by the surveyors and engineers. Each of these communities, non-existent at the time that the rails arrived, was born of the railway’s need. Communities such as Regina and Calgary, which pre-existed the railway, are just as conspicuous as interruptions of this pattern.

The laying of rails through a community did not mean that services could begin immediately. The common practice was to build the track bed or infrastructure, laying ties and rails directly upon it. Track laid in this way, without ballast, was sufficient to bear the weight of a construction or supply train at slow speed 10 miles per hour. Gravel ballast was then brought in in open cars and dumped on the completed track. Crews of men, using jacks and alignment bars, lifted the rails and ties up through the ballast, bringing the track to more precise level suitable for train operation. Ballast trains going back and forth over ballasted track tended to consolidate the ballast and make the track bed firm.

While the ballasting was going on, crews of carpenters were erecting stations, section houses and water tanks, while other trackmen laid additional sidings, used for the passing of trains, if they were needed. Finally, crews of painters descended upon the newly-built structures, enabling the railway to open a given section of line to business.

For this reason, there was a delay between the completion of the track and opening for service. For example, though the rails had been laid to Oak Lake, Manitoba, in the autumn of 1881, train service was only inaugurated for the public on 11 June 1882. The ensuing dates of opening of additional sections of line constitute a progress report on the speed of track laying:

Oak Lake to Broadview

11 June 1882

Broadview to Regina

1 October 1882

Regina to Swift Current

10 December 1882

As Egan opened service to Swift Current, the actual end of track was nearly eighty miles to the West. Despite the inauspicious start, good weather had enabled excellent progress to be made. On two days in August, 1882, crews had put down more than four miles of track in a single day.

As regular train services were established, Egan had to employ all of his skill and ingenuity in meshing them with supply trains. Knowing by experience that his decisions had to be governed by firsthand knowledge, he was away on the line more than half of the time, observing operation on his Division at first hand and making his decisions and formulating policies accordingly. Used to the relatively dependable weather conditions of the northern Midwest, Egan was completely baffled by the unpredictable weather of the western Prairie. He was perhaps the first railway officer on record to observe the effect of the “chinook”. On a trip westward on January 1883, Egan experienced a temperature of minus 52° Fahrenheit at Moose Jaw on the 19th; the next day, at Swift Current, it had warmed up to minus 42°. Proceeding westward, he reached the end of track near Maple Creek, by which time a warming trend of 75 degrees in temperature had turned the snow to rain!

He commented in a letter to Van Horne that snow fences would be virtually useless against prairie snow, which was so fine that it would “... find a half-inch knothole and continue on its way until it came to a railway cut.” His trips through to the western end of track alternated with others eastward over the line being constructed by government contractors west of the Lakehead.

On 11 June 1882, the line from Cross Lake to Rat Portage was turned over to the CPR for operation. The rails between Rat Portage and Port Arthur were actually connected on the 19th of that month, making, in theory, a through line of railway between the Lakehead and Winnipeg. However, more than a year was to elapse before problems of alignment and levelling, particularly over the muskegs and the many bodies of water, were overcome sufficiently to allow the passage of trains with reasonable dependability.

This was the area of the infamous Contracts 41 and 42, which would later form the subject of a Royal Commission of Investigation. With work on the CPR-built section eastward from the Lakehead scheduled to begin in the spring of 1883, it was imperative that the Canadian Pacific company should have control of the whole of the Lake head-Winnipeg track by that time. Ultimately, the line, in an incomplete state, was placed in Canadian Pacific’s custody in May, 1883. Egan’s territory, the Western Division, was expanded by this move to its eastern limit at Lake Superior, as construction eastward along the North Shore was considered to be part of the Eastern Division. The addition of the Thunder Bay line to Egan’s responsibilities brought a number of new problems: one was the fact that private individuals living along the line had been in the habit of using their own handcars and velocipedes to travel along the railway. This practice had been tolerated by the contractors, simply because most of the people concerned were employed in construction, or in supplying the workers on the railway. Once scheduled operations started, this itinerant and unauthorized traffic had to be stopped, as it was a menace to regular trains.

This practice, together with problems of track subsidence in swampy areas, caused Egan to restrict scheduled train operations to daylight hours. In some of the more serious muskegs, the embankment had to be laid on a “mattress” of tree trunks, roots and branches. It was some time before roadbed laid in this way stabilized, and while I have been unable to find any authentic reference to the story, that, at one location, seven complete sets of tracks disappeared into a muskeg, there are many recorded instances where the track disappeared below the surface of water after the passage of each train, necessitating more ballast to bring the rails above the water again. In some cases, it was necessary to repeat this procedure for weeks before the embankment became firm.

While on the subject of debunking fables, I would like to read one of Egan’s letters to Van Horne about relations with the native peoples, on the subject of which much ink has been spilled:

“No doubt you have heard reports regarding trouble with the Indians at end of track. I was there all day Wednesday and Wednesday night but saw nor heard nothing to justify such rumors. There are about a dozen tepees at Maple Creek camped there on the bank of the creek. At Swift Current there (are) from (15) to (20) tepees. They have been there in the neighbourhood of three weeks and state that they are waiting for the buffalo to cross at that point. They say the buffalo are coming and will reach there in about a week or ten days. They appear to be very friendly and take great delight in being about the engine and cars.” [1]

As far as I am aware, the only potential problem in this area occurred in 1883 when the line was being built across the Blackfoot Reserve near Gleichen in what is now Alberta. On that occasion, the good offices of Father Lacombe were used effectively. Our references concerning this incident are derived from other sources, as there are no references at all in the Van Horne correspondence.

.During the season of 1883, the railway was constructed between Maple Creek and the summit of the Rockies in Kicking Horse Pass, a distance of about 375 miles. Considering that the last 150 miles were situated in the valley of the Bow River, with a number of crossings of that stream, this achievement was in every way comparable to that for 1882. In his preparations to take over completed sections for operation, Egan was a frequent visitor to operations at railhead, and conveyed his observations and impressions to Van Horne.

Early in July, 1883, he wrote as follows:

The line west of Medicine Hat after we reached the second grade west of the (Saskatchewan) River west of that point is in very good shape, and they are surfacing same rapidly. The grading, surfacing and track laying has been done in better shape this year than it was last. The alignment is very good. There are but few cuttings and no water courses worth mentioning, all of which combine to make a very good line.

On Saturday, we were at a point 87 miles west of the River, and could see plainly the bluffs of the Bow River at Crowfoot Crossing, which was about 23 miles further on.

They say that about 10 miles west of Crowfoot Crossing on a clear day, the Rocky Mountains can be seen with the naked eye ... [2]

Egan was undoubtedly one of the first observers to refer to that dramatic view of the long, serrated, white-peaked ridge of the Rockies far away to the southwest, which has been experienced by countless railway travellers.

This section of railway construction, as far as Calgary, was under contract to Langdon, Shepard & Company of St. Paul, Minnesota. Two attempts were made to exceed the four-miles-per-day track laying record of the previous summer; characteristically, Egan was present for both of them. The first was on 7 July 1883:

On Saturday, there was six miles, one hundred and twenty feet of Main Line and two thousand feet of side track laid by the contractors. They did not let us know that they expected to do such work until Friday, but they were not delayed a minute for material, and we could have given them two miles and a half more had they been able to lay it. The weather on Saturday was very warm and the tie team service was very bad. Had they more teams I have no doubt they could have laid a couple of miles more. They pressed all the teams they could get hold of into service, even Grant’s buggy team. I was very anxious for them to get down seven miles, as it was the seventh day of the month, and on that account would be easily remembered hereafter.

There was a delay on Thursday last of one and a half hours on account of one of the cars loaded with iron on the front train, breaking an axle. The car had to be unloaded before it could be moved. [3]

This record attempt was made when the railhead was a few miles east of what is now Bassano, Alta. Another attempt was made on 28 July 1883 as the line was being built through what is now Strathmore, Alberta, about thirty five miles east of Calgary:

As I wired you Saturday night, the effort made on Saturday to beat the former records at track laying, proved to be a grand fizzle. As far as we were concerned, we had every preparation made, and could give them at the End of Track, inside of fourteen hours, at least twenty miles of material.

They were not organized for the work. They ran up Hanleys surfacing gang and Marshal’s side track gang. The men had no disposition to work together. Both Hanley’s and Marshal’s gangs knew nothing about laying track, consequently they had to depend on the bulk of the work being done by Grant’s own men. Grant did not consider that they were organized for this big job, and had no wish to go into the matter. They had but three iron cars, and only teams enough to draw out what ties were required. There were no change horses on the iron cars, and when the work ended up on Saturday night, nearly every team, together with the men, were tired to death.

On the six miles that they did lay, there was a number of curves, and a heavy grade all the way. No iron was cut or prepared for the curves, consequently there was a delay there.

Langdon, Shepard and Grant all felt very sore over the record, but they had no help for it and saw where their mistakes were when the day was past.

The weather was very warm also, the Thermometer ranging in the neighborhood of 92. [4]

The track laid on that day, the record for the whole transcontinental project, was six miles, 2000 feet, only 1,850 feet better than on 7 July. Egan’s disparagement of this achievement was made with the knowledge that forces working on the Union Pacific Railroad in the construction of the American transcontinental, had achieved a record of 10 miles of track in one day, fifteen years previously.

Another communication of Egan’s is the letter that I call “Calgary’s birth certificate”. Written on 1 August 1883 as the rails approached what is now known as the “Stampede City”, it displayed rather remarkable foresight for a community which was then only a trading post:

At Calgary on Section 23, there is a very good location for a town site. No squatters are on this section, as the Mounted Police have kept them off there. Mr. Hamilton has arranged to lay out a town, and I have no doubt that when you see the place, it will please you. It is West of the Elbow and the north line of the section runs across the Bow River. It is a natural Town site, and far ahead of any location that we have on the line of the road ... [5]

Writing his third letter on the same day, Egan became apprehensive once again about the steadily-lengthening line and the chronic shortage of engines and cars:

... As you are aware, we have been figuring on laying but about from one to one and a half miles per day west of the (Bow) River, but Mr. Ross now tells me that he expects to lay in the vicinity of two and a half miles per day. This will tax our rolling stock severely, and as we have to haul the rails from Port Arthur, I trust you will hurry along those new Rogers engines. We also should have some more new Cabooses, as the nights are beginning to grow cold, and many of our men are using box car cabooses. [6]

Curiously, one of the “new Rogers engines” which Egan referred to, built in Paterson, New Jersey, lasted in service from 1883 to 1960, was then preserved by a private individual in Toronto, and was borrowed back by Canadian Pacific in 1973 to star in the CBC documentary, “The National Dream”.

When Egan had arrived in Winnipeg, he left his family in Minnesota, due, apparently, to the lack of suitable family accommodations in Winnipeg. The building of a house formed the subject of an exchange of correspondence in September, 1883. Egan thought he would like a lot somewhere along the Assiniboine, but Van Horne, in authorizing Egan to expend $3,500 on a suitable house, apart from the cost of a lot, suggested that it be built close to the CPR station, but in a “first rate neighbourhood ... say in the vicinity of Mr. Ashdown’s residence.” [7]

Another operation in which Egan was involved in 1883 was the establishment of a commercial telegraph operation, Van Horne accepted Egan’s recommendation to hire B. S. Jenkins to start the project. What is now CP Telecommunications was begun on 1 September 1883 in Winnipeg, as a product of Van Horne’s conviction that since the railway owned the telegraph wires and instruments, it should operate the service rather than lease it out to an independent telegraph company, as was the practice in the United States end in Eastern Canada. “We should get the thing started in some way as soon as possible,” wrote Van Horne to Egan, “and correct mistakes afterwards.” [8]

Some curious events formed part of Egan’s duties, and one of them involved investigation of an indignant letter from a British clergyman who, with his son, had travelled eastward across the prairie in a coach in which, it was alleged, two women of easy virtue had travelled, all the while fraternizing with the crew and the predominantly-male passengers. This problem was placed squarely in Egan’s lap, and he dutifully secured written statements from all the members of the train crew on the date concerned, as well as from other employees who were witnesses. It transpired that the two ladies were innocent of the allegations being, respectively, the matron and a waitress at one of the CPR’s divisional dining rooms. As such, they were well-known to crews and regular travellers and socialized with them, causing the clergyman to draw a completely erroneous conclusion.

A communication sent to Montreal early in 1885 directed Van Horne’s attention to a site for a hotel, which is still one of the most popular hostelries in the CP Hotels system:

In the vicinity of Banff within a short distance of where the station is located, sulphur springs have been discovered. The temperature in one of these springs is at seventy two (72°) degrees, while in the other, the temperature is in the neighborhood of two hundred (200°) degrees.” Continuing, Egan anticipated the Canmore and Bankhead Mines: “A coal mine has been discovered cropping out of the side of the Bow River, and parties tell me that the mine has been traced on the side of the mountains for over sixty (60) miles. There are two veins of twenty (20) feet each, or forty (40) feet of coal. Some parties have taken out some of the coal and brought it to Calgary where it has given very good satisfaction, and they are now endeavouring to obtain patent of the land for the purpose of going into mining on an extensive scale. [9]

Van Horne’s first official advice of the opening of hostilities in the second North West Rebellion came in the form of a terse telegram, in code, from the ever-observant Egan. Translated, it read:


Subsequently, he was engaged in the key role of moving the troops over the Western Division after the often-described forced marches between gaps in the uncompleted line along the North Shore of Lake Superior. In addition to the practical difficulties which this exercise engendered, Egan had also to deal with the frivolous demands of some of the junior officers, who felt that they should be able to ride in sleeping cars rather than in the coaches provided for the lower ranks. In such cases, he was capable of great diplomacy, as he was on another occasion when one of the CPR’s physicians caused a slight “stir”:

As Col. Otter’s command pulled out of Winnipeg Station this evening for the West, about the time they were leaving, Dr. Orton who arrived here last Tuesday expecting to go West to join his regiment (the 90th Battalion, Winnipeg)-rushed up and got on board the last car with great difficulty.

Every man could see that the Dr. was in a hopeless state of intoxication, and after he got on, Col. Otter demanded to know what right he had on there. He replied when there were some words not very complimentary passed between him and Col. Otter. The train was up in the yard at that time, the Colonel pulled the bell and ordered the train back up to the Station.

As I saw the train coming back, I immediately asked him what the trouble was. He told me about Dr. Orton and ordered him taken off the car ... I met him ... and had him come up to my room and tried to explain to him that Otter was in command of the train and that no one had a right to give permission to any person to go on the train unless it was Otter’s wish. He became very abusive indeed and threatened all sorts of trouble to me, the CPR and everybody else ... [11]

Alcohol was one of the great social problems of the era; those who did not use it themselves often catered to those who did, resulting in an instance reported to Egan in August, 1885, by an employee named O’Keeffe:

I beg most respectfully to report, for your information, there was a man named Steen a store keeper from Donald (BC) shipped a car of potatoes from Winnipeg to Calgary on May 19th, car No. 950 ... this car of potatoes was handed over by Mr. Kerr the general storekeeper of the constructions to this man Steen and in the bottom of the car was 150 gallons of whiskey ... [12]

Supt. of Fort William RCMP Examining Passenger Luggage

What was in many ways the culmination of Egan’s career came on 7 November 1885, when he formed part of the little group gathered in Eagle Pass in British Columbia to mark the completion of the transcontinental railway. He appears in the photographs taken on that occasion, a short statured, broad-countenanced man in a dark hat, standing discreetly in the background.

The following Dominion Day, July 1st, 1886, the first scheduled through transcontinental train stopped in this city, and its passing was marked by a typical Egan telegram:


His remarks were amplified by another officer, W. F. Salsbury, who was a passenger on the train, en route to take up his new duties as Local Treasurer at Port Moody:

At Winnipeg, the people were en fete in commemoration of the day and they had evidently made our reception a part of the programme. The military had been called out and they received us with a salvo of artillery as we pulled into the depot. They also went through several evolutions in front of the station and the Mayor and Corporation were in attendance with an address of congratulations to the Company. The City was also gaily decorated with flags and our car the HONOLULU was thronged with admiring visitors during our stay. We lost a little time at Winnipeg filling our water tanks, etc., in the cars and left there about half an hour late entering the prairie district immediately. [14]

The hand-lettered parchment address referred to is one of the interesting original documents which has survived from the construction period and is in the hands of our Corporate Archives. I shall not read the whole of its text, written in the usual ornate style of the period, but judging from the terminating peroration, it is perfectly obvious that the Slavic ethnic element which now forms such a distinctive component in the life of Winnipeg, was not present then. Consequently, I should think it ill-advised to show copies of this document to our Ukrainian friends in the “north end”!

“We know that the consummation of this Work will unite and consolidate an extensive British Colonial Empire in America, and that by placing an Iron Girdle round the Continent, Territories now lying Waste and Desolate will be brought under the beneficent influence of civilization and commerce, thereby maintaining in British Lands that supremacy which would appear to be the heritage of the Anglo Saxon and Celtic Races.” Now that I read it again, I see that those of us who are descended from the “other” founding race, are omitted as well. It would be just as unacceptable in St. Boniface!

A few weeks later, Egan reported to Van Horne that he had been offered the post of General Superintendent of the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway and that as it would take him back to St. Paul, he had accepted. In indicating that he would relinquish his duties with the CPR effective 1 September 1886, he expressed his thanks and appreciation to Van Horne for the support he had received, and for the valuable experience he had acquired in dealing, for four years, with an unprecedented project, the building of a 3,000-mile transcontinental railway.

Leaving the CPR at the age of thirty-eight, he went on to greater things, eventually becoming president of the Central of Georgia Railway, and of the Union Depot Bridge & Terminal Railway of Kansas City, before 1906. I have not been able to ascertain the date of his death and thus provide a complete biographical summary of the career of this observant and conscientious railroader, but the dozens of letters he wrote to Van Horne preserve Egan’s views of a busy and eventful period, with interesting insights into events in this city where he made his headquarters.

Since that time, Winnipeg has occupied an important place in Canadian Pacific operations. The city has given many talented individuals to serve the company which I represent, and its hopes, needs and aspirations have exerted a strong influence on Canadian Pacific policy.

Winnipeg has become a second home for many other members of Canadian Pacific’s personnel, many of them successors of Egan. One of these was William Whyte, the railway’s General Superintendent in Toronto, who came to Winnipeg to replace Egan in September, 1886, and whose own career is a story in itself.

Whyte is perhaps best remembered for the famed “Battle of Fort Whyte” which occurred several years after his arrival here, but an account of that and other facets of Canadian Pacific’s presence in Winnipeg must await another occasion.


1. Canadian Pacific Corporate Archives: Records Group B (Van Horne Correspondence), Egan to Van Horne, 27 April 1883.

2. Ibid., Egan to Van Horne, 9 July 1883.

3. Ibid., Egan to Van Horne, 9 July 1883.

4. Ibid., Egan to Van Horne, 1 August 1883.

5. Ibid., Egan to Van Horne, 1 August 1883.

6. Ibid., Egan to Van Horne, 1 August 1883.

7. Canadian Pacific Corporate Archives, Van Horne Letterbook 3, p. 53, 21 September 1883.

8. Ibid., Van Horne Letterbook 2, p. 575, 8 August 1883.

9. Canadian Pacific Corporate Archives: Records Group B (Van Horne Correspondence), Egan to Van Horne, 19 March 1885.

10. Ibid., Egan to Van Horne, 27 March 1885. (Telegram in code)

11. Ibid., Egan to Van Horne, 7 April 1885.

12. Ibid., O’Keeffe to Egan, 20 August 1885.

13. Ibid., Egan to Van Horne, 1 July 1886. (Telegram)

14. Lavallee, Omer: Van Horne’s Road, Montreal, Railfare, 1974. (p. 265)

15. Canadian Pacific Corporate Archives: Document Collection: Winnipeg Address, 1 July 1886.

Page revised: 22 May 2010